There are three holidays in France in May: Fête du Travail (May 1st, almost everything is closed); V-Day 1945 (May 8, most places remain open); and Ascension (May 30th, most places remain open).
It’s the annual Fête du Travail in France, one of the biggest national holidays when almost every museum and shop is closed. Some are still open, as is the Tour Eiffel – see what’s open May 1st for a full list. Traditionally there are parades by French workers’ unions, although this year it will likely include the Gilets Jaunes, and should be avoided. Whatever the case, call ahead to make sure the places you’re going are open and count on several public transport disruptions.
The largest gardening festival in Versailles takes place this weekend at the 11th annual Esprit Jardin: L’Art du Jardin, with free entrance exceptionally to the Potager du Roi. With more than 80 exhibitors, the festival runs from 10am-7pm in the Quartier St-Louis: rue du Maréchal Joffre, rue d’Anjou, Carré à l’Avoine, Potager du Roi et Parc Balbi. Free entry.
Through May 8
The annual Foire de Paris (Paris Fair) is one of the biggest events of the year, occupying the entire Paris Expo Porte de Versailles (15th arr.) with hall after hall of food and wine, home and garden, fashion and accessories, travel and world cultures, arts and crafts, the famous Inventions Contest, and a ‘Makers Fair’. It’s chaos, it’s fascinating, and there’s always something interesting to learn (or buy, or eat). Just don’t go on the weekend unless you like being trampled! Buy your tickets in advance and avoid lines; entry €11 (€15 at the door).
If you’re looking for some new-to-you clothing and want to support the charity Emmaüs, don’t miss their latest Vente au Kilo where you can stock up on used clothing, shoes and accessories for men and women and kids sold for €10 per kilo, as well as CDs, DVDs, records and sewing supplies. At the Palais de la Femme (96 rue de Charonne, 11th), 10am-6pm, free entry.
Tonight is the last chance to see “Swinging on the Seine: A musical one-woman show in English about the swinging 60’s in Paris” starring the woman who was there, D’Yan Forest! Text written by Stephen Clarke (authour of the ‘Year in the Merde’ series). From 7pm at the Jardin Sauvage (10 quai d’Austerlitz, 13th), €15 entry includes a free drink. Tickets through Billet Reduc.
One of the biggest flower shows in France, Journées des Plantes de Chantilly(formerly Courson), takes place this weekend at the Chateau de Chantilly, just 45 minutes north of Paris from the Gare du Nord. Entry €20 (or €18 if you get your tickets online before May 16).
Check out your favorite Paris museum at night during the 15th annual Nuit Européenne des Musées, when all over Europe museums stay open until midnight…for free! Special flashlight tours, live music, installment arts, film screenings, costumed museum guides, and other fun events throughout the evening at each museum.
Want to participate in one of the biggest clothing/decor/record/book swaps in Paris with 600 other people? Sign up now to grab a place at the next “Giant Free Troc Party” hosted at the Acteurs du Paris Durable (21 rue des Blancs Manteaux, 4th). There are three time slots, 10:30am, 12:30pm and 2:30pm, free entry, bring all the stuff you want to exchange to add to the piles.
The 13th annual Fête de la Nature is a five-day festival celebrating nature with a full program of 5000 free events in parks, gardens, nature preserves and forests all over the country, with 36 events in Paris alone.
Blending culture with social in their excellent ‘Music by the Glass’ chamber series, Sinfonietta Paris presents an emotionally charged series of concerts. For May, they present the works of Debussy and Fauré with Fiona McGown (soprano), Raphaëlle Moreau (violin), Manuel Vioque-Judde (alto), Sharon Tsai (violoncelle) and Célia Oneto Bensaid (piano). Friday’s concert takes place at a private residence in paris, and Saturday at the Fondation Dosne-Thiers in the 9th arrondissement. Tickets €25 (wine and snacks included after the concert). Register on the website, spaces limited.
The 30th annual Artists’ Open Studios in Belleville takes place for four days in over 120 ateliers in Belleville (centered on the 19th and 11th arrondissements). It’s a great chance to see some real Paris neighborhoods, meet local artists, and of course purchase some lovely artworks! See a map of all the open studios, or visit the HQ at Galerie des AAB (1 rue Picabia, 19th, metro Couronnes). Free entry. Studios are open 2-8pm over the four days of the event.
Les Frigos, one of the oldest artists “squats” in Paris (legalized over 35 years ago) houses 200 artists of all kinds in a 1920s refridgerated warehouse converted into ateliers near the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand (13th). This weekend they’re open to the public for their annual Portes Ouvertes, with live music, entertainment, and art for sale directly from the artists. Free entry, Saturday 2-10pm and Sunday 2-8pm.
The City of Paris is bringing together all of the local organizations working on ideas for “ecological transition” to fight climate change in an event called Paris de l’Avenir (a play on words: “Paris” also means “a bet” and “avenir” means “future”) Whether you live in Paris and want to get involved or are visiting and curious to see what Parisians are doing to prevent a climate crisis, stop by the square in front of the Hôtel de Ville from 11am-6pm (free entry) to check out the different stands and workshops. If you want to attend the special tours and events around the city, you’ll need to register in advance on the official website (only in French).
Through May 30
Although it’s basically a big branding event, if you’re looking for a sunny terrace to enjoy a beer with your friends in the Latin Quarter, check out the Atelier 1664, a pop-up brasserie with a huge garden courtyard and terrace in a lovely historic building (47 rue Cardinal Lemoine, 5th). There’s food, bar snacks, and all of the beers in the 1664 range (you can even take beer making classes). There’s also a huge table for 16 you can reserve if you’ve got your whole tribe with you. Open daily noon-midnight (Fri-Sat until 1am).
Through June 30
For something a bit lighter for the whole family, Théâtre in Paris is also featuring the new musical comedy, “The Tower of Monsieur Eiffel” (La Tour de 300 Metres in French), celebrating the 130th anniversary of the city’s iconic monument. Catchy and fun, the play introduces a gallery of lively characters including Gustave Eiffel himself, his daughter Claire, the author Guy de Maupassant, Panama Canal architect Ferdinand de Lesseps, the International Herald Tribune editor James Gordon Bennett Jr, the workers who built the Tower, and the crazy neighbors who tried to block it (many of the actors play several of the roles). It’s a great way to learn a bit more about the drama behind the construction of the Eiffel Tower and the man who dreamed it could be done. It’s playing at the adorable Théâtre des Mathurins (near the Opéra Garnier in the 9th) with English surtitles (there’s also a bit of Franglais in there), and a warm welcome from the Théâtre in Paris staff with your own English program and excellent seats. From €29.
Through November 3
New in 2019, the Château Vaux-le-Vicomte (the inspiration for Louis XIV’s Versailles) presents The Styx: River of the Underworld: “An exceptional adventure on the underground river which was diverted by Le Nôtre in 1654 during the creation of the French gardens, this specially designed trip is fun and interactive, and draws on La Fontaine’s text «The love of Cupid and Psyche ». Guided along on the Styx the river of the classical underworld equipped with headlamps and wading boots, you will go through a series of tests of agility and logic… An unprecedented and intense adventure performed by professional actors!” The cost is €60 per group (with 2-6 people per group) in addition to the château fee (kids have to be at least 1.3m tall). Note: this activity is only in French for the moment. Check out the other château events here.
Plan Ahead for June
June 2: Paris Vegan Festival
June 2: Grand Siècle Day at Château Vaux le Vicomte
June 6: Sinfonietta “Bravo!” dinner concert
June 7-9: Rendez-Vous au Jardins
June 14-15: Music by the Glass
June 15: Bal des Parisiennes
June 21: Fête de la Musique
Other Paris Calendar Links
▪ For French Theatre with English surtitles: Theatre in Paris
▪ For general events around Paris (including sports): Que Faire à Paris?
▪ For mainstream events visit the Paris Office of Tourism